Unhappily, we’ve found ourselves unexpectedly familiar with the question of what to do when confronted with a global pandemic and it’s no understatement to say that we’ve all taken different approaches, with different levels of success. Forced by circumstance to get inventive, award-winning London-based composer Vince Pope chose to reach out, making connections with pianist-composers around the world: Australia, Germany, Russia, Italy, Japan, Canada. The resulting twelve collaborative tracks segue gently from modern composition to ambient, with the occasional touches of jazz thrown in.
The best collaborations feel like a conversation between the two artists: an honest and respectful exchange, in which the personalities of both shine through. In Together Apart this is very much the case, and despite the disparate styles, backgrounds and experiences of his collaborators Pope has succeeding in tying them together in a way that feels coherent.
Bookended by two tracks with clear jazz influences, the album opens with “Concrete Clouds” with Lambert, a mask-wearing German and closes with “Yellow Afternoons” with Australian Nat Bartsch (whose lovely 2021 album Hope we reviewed last year). The inventiveness of the former, particularly in the piano solo towards the end, serves as an exciting introduction to the album; the beguiling charm of the latter’s subtle ‘cello and whimsical synth solo is a perfect close. Perhaps intentionally, the keys of both pieces are close enough that Bartsch’s track leads nicely back into Lambert’s: engage the repeat button and enjoy!
There are various other gems. Luca Longobardi treats us to a beautiful synth-based ambience, gently looping and evolving without ever losing track of its origin. We reviewed Luca’s 2013 album P.eople. back when it came out, saying “It’s time for a major label to literally take note” of him, and it’s wonderful to enjoy his musical and professional growth since then (recently he played a major role in an international immersive Van Gogh exhibition). Other old friends are here too. We’ve reviewed Sophie Hutchings not once, not twice, but four times and the gentle melancholy of her track “Pause” feels just right: a lovely dialogue between her gorgeous style and Pope’s own. Our old friend Stefano Guzzetti (five reviews!) is also here, and his track “I Called Your Name” has all the sincerity and melodic skill we’ve come to associate with him. Dmitri Evgrafov, whose 2017 album was one of our modern composition albums of the 2010s, his piece “Everything Matters” sparkling like winter light.
It’s not all old friends: like all good parties, there is also a lovely mix of potential new ones. Right at the centre of the album is twin set of pieces of extraordinary beauty: “Time Goes Gently By” with Wide Eyed and “Touch” by Hideyuki Hashimoto, both of which are written for purely solo piano. Shortly before Nat Bartsch closes out the album, Sharon Lynn Makarenko offers up “Travelling Home”, which opens with a tender haze, broadening later to include strings, synths and extra layers of felted piano. Pope tells us that he’s thinking about a second album. We’re intrigued to hear more. (Garreth Brooke)